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Friday, January 3, 2014

Why I Loved The Wolf of Wall Street

Posted by on Fri, Jan 3, 2014 at 3:15 PM


"One thing [American Hustle] is not a Scorsese film. You are a classic stranger writer. Rip on everything, like nothing., unless your friends say so. I really liked the film. All I can say again Classic Stranger. You fit right in.
Welcome to our town, Douche!!!!"
—entirety of an e-mail to me from a fan named Martin, 12/27/2013.

In my very positive review of American Hustle, I said that David O. Russell had created a film that feels like a response to a Scorsese movie, focusing on the characters running around in the background of Casino or Goodfellas while the big-time mobsters do their business. Hustle borrows heavily from Scorsese's visual vocabulary and common thematic elements to tell what is ultimately a more personal, more sentimental story than Scorsese usually attempts.

At the same time that Russell was putting out an entertaining Scorsese riff, Scorsese was putting the finishing touches on the best movie he's made in decades. I'm not surprised that The Wolf of Wall Street is having a hard time gaining acceptance with the moviegoing masses. (Erik Henriksen's review of The Wolf of Wall Street , by the way, is right-on.) People become uneasy when they sense that they're being made fun of, and this movie is making fun of us. It's a dark comedy that takes aim directly at that most precious of American beliefs, articulated best in the popular misquote commonly attributed to John Steinbeck:

Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

The millionaires in The Wolf of Wall Street aren't embarrassed in any sense of the word, but they are embarrassing. They're the crassest, neediest, basest pieces of shit you'll ever see. Their only religion is excess. They're not obsessed with their own desires, they're obsessed with owning what everyone else desires. If you think for a minute that Martin Scorsese is glorifying the Wall Street lifestyle in this movie, if you identify with any of these characters, the chances are good that you're a horrible person.

The Wolf of Wall Street is aimed directly at everything that is disgusting about America: The propensity to look the other way when the wealthy commit crimes, the libertarian belief that the market knows best, the confusion of wealth and value, the willingness of the wealthiest one percent to prey on everyone else's shaky financial statuses, the arrogant belief that we are exceptional just because we're American. It's a movie that is excessive in its desire to depict excess. The dozens of bacchanalias that you see on screen do overpower your senses. Eventually, all the drug-taking, sex, and wild partying becomes boring. That's the point. Anyone who thinks that The Wolf of Wall Street should be an hour shorter doesn't understand what the movie is about. It's not about punishing the protagonist, it's about punishing the viewer.

This is not to say that The Wolf of Wall Street is humorless. It's very funny. It's got some brilliant, sure-to-be-iconic physical comedy. The characters are hilariously vain, and completely unaware of how they present to everyone else. It's a Scorsese movie through and through, but the tone and the humor feels slightly different from every other film he's made. There's only one other director I can think of who could've pulled this movie off, and that other director's fingerprints are all over this film. It's hard not to imagine his ghost sitting on top of the camera in every scene, chuckling at everything he sees. Who would've thought that while David O. Russell was busy making a Scorsese film, Scorsese would at the same time be occupying himself with making a Kubrick film?


Comments (11) RSS

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TomJohnsonJr 1
This makes me super excited to see it. So good.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on January 3, 2014 at 3:46 PM · Report this
dnt trust me 2
Any examples on how this is like a Kubrick film?
Posted by dnt trust me on January 3, 2014 at 3:57 PM · Report this
I'm so with you, Paul. It's great. And ghastly.
Posted by Christopher Frizzelle on January 3, 2014 at 4:08 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 4
Scorsese is the only director I've known to get a watchable movie out of Leonardo DiCaprio.
Posted by MacCrocodile on January 3, 2014 at 4:23 PM · Report this
"The Aviator" did not suck.
Posted by Sen. Ralph Owen Brewster on January 3, 2014 at 4:35 PM · Report this
Don't buy books by crooks. Or see movies featuring their stories. Not that Scorsese is a crook, but Belfort sure as hell is. This is just his latest scheme to continue profiting from being a sociopathic asshole.
Posted by ErnieInBelltown on January 3, 2014 at 5:45 PM · Report this
kubrick was a gun-toting social darwininst, extremely distrustful of almost all authority. NOT a moralizing, toothless centrist posing as a liberal. Seems like your trying to doll up Kubrick the way you do Snowden.
Posted by sorrybutyouguysawakenmysupressedinnerdick on January 3, 2014 at 7:03 PM · Report this
I actually did feel kind of bad for Leo's character in the end, and I don't think that makes me a terrible person. I don't even think his character was an outright terrible human being -- he just thought he could get away with it. Fear of getting caught keeps most people from doing a lot of bad stuff, but that doesn't make them any better or worse than someone like his character. If most people were wily enough to even think they could get away with it, they'd do the same thing.
Posted by Amanda on January 3, 2014 at 9:56 PM · Report this
stinkbug 9
While I overall liked the movie, there were some scenes that were cringe-worthy for me since I knew Scorsese was behind the camera. Things like the Lemmon sequence crawling and Hill's prosthetic piece just seemed silly and lazily done. At times I felt like I was watching an actual 90s movie instead of a movie about the 90s. But maybe that's the entire genius of it. I need to re-watch it.
Posted by stinkbug on January 3, 2014 at 10:37 PM · Report this
Thank you -- after I left the movie, I couldn't figure out how anyone could claim that it "glorified" anything Belfort did. Sure he had lots of expensive stuff and he told the camera that having expensive stuff made all the fraud worth it, but the movie went out of its way to depict Belfort as a rampaging douche who contributed nothing to society except to wreck everything he touched. I couldn't imagine who would watch it and say, "I want to be that guy -- the one drooling on the hooker in front of his staff before he goes home to slap his wife."
Posted by Fr0zt on January 4, 2014 at 9:32 AM · Report this
@10, that's what Michael Lewis thought when writing "Liar's Poker", and what Oliver Stone thought when making "Wall Street". Lewis was stunned at how may folks would approach him at lectures and book signings begging him for the scoop on how to get hired at a bond trading desk. Stone was stunned at how many fans of "Wall Street" dreamed of being Gordon Gecko.
Posted by Chas on January 4, 2014 at 10:48 AM · Report this

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